Once Beckett started swimming, he did not stop. The Veneti fleet were far away, but Beckett knew that if he just kept his head down and moved, he would get to them eventually. The cold water actually kept him focused. Just hit the water and go! He could hear Coach Wu shouting at him as he swam out to the Veneti fleet.
Just hit the water and go!
Beckett's hips rotated as he cut through the cold water. It was the one piece of information he'd received on technique that he never forgot. Kick less. Rotate more! Coach Wu had been an Olympic hopeful at one point, but a separated shoulder at the wrong time kept him out of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Four years later, he hadn't qualified.
Beckett's swimming classes were filled with kids; some swam well. Others could swim OK. Beckett was one of the ones who could swim OK. Now that he was swimming in the cold open ocean, Beckett felt an urgency he'd never felt in the pool. He had to swim; otherwise he might not ever get back home. Beckett kept this in the back of his mind as he was otherwise focused on keeping his hips moving, and breathing every few strokes.
After a few minutes, tiredness caused his brain to wonder if he'd gotten anywhere near the Veneti ships. He stopped swimming, looked ahead, then looked back. He was a little over half way there. He took a deep breath and continued. No point in waiting, he thought. He was closer to the Veneti boats than he was to the shore. He may as well keep moving forward.
Beckett reached the closest ship. He fit his hand into a groove in the side, and looked up. This thing is massive! He thought to himself. The Roman boats were far smaller. He looked back to the Roman fleet, which in the distance looked even smaller. He looked at the Veneti boat. He looked up to see how he would climb it. He couldn't see the top. After all that swimming, Beckett now had perhaps even a harder challenge, getting up the side of a slippery boat. The lower part of the hull was wet from the water, but if he could somehow make it past the first meter, the hull became quite dry. Beckett saw another groove in the side, and he reached for it. No luck. He slipped and plunged back into the water. Back under the cold water, Beckett panicked briefly as he exerted himself to get back above the water. He kicked hard and his head popped back out and he gasped for air. Beckett reached again for the side of the boat, and took the same grip he'd initially held. Beckett collected his energy again, and heaved his entire body weight up out of the water and grabbed the slightly higher groove in the ship's hull that he'd missed before. It was slippery, and Beckett felt fire in every muscle in his body as he heaved himself upwards, but Beckett managed to wedge his fingers in. One more lift and Beckett would be on dry timber. Beckett took a few quick breaths and lifted again. He did it! He was fully out of the water, and had his fingers safely wedged into the side of the boat. He could now see the top of the Veneti ship. He smiled and began pulling himself up the side of the monstrous vessel.
Once he reached the top, he secured his feet on the deck, and could finally relax his upper body. he poked his head over side of the boat and looked around. Everyone stood waiting. A number of them looked West towards another boat. No-one here looks like they're in charge, Becket thought to himself. He listened to the sailors, but could not make out a single word. Definitely not Latin, he thought to himself. He looked in the direction that the others were looking; there was another Veneti ship in the distance where Beckett could just make out that people were running around. The other ships looked quite still in comparison, as if they were waiting for the other ship to make a move. That's probably the best bet, Beckett thought. Beckett looked down at the cold, choppy Atlantic water. He looked back at the coast where he knew Antoni and Caesar were waiting. He briefly considered going back. I should probably check that the leader of the fleet is on that ship, he thought. While he wanted more than anything to get back to Antoni and get his return switch back, he figured it'd be best to be sure he knew where the commander was. He looked at the water below him, and just as he was starting to warm up, he knew he had to go back in. He shuddered as he took in a deep breath. Then, he dropped from the boat back into the water and swam towards the larger ship.
It was a far shorter distance, so Beckett quickly arrived at the next boat and climbed the side. Soaked and shivering, he lifted himself onto the deck of the ship. This ship seemed busier. People were hustling about. It looked like they were preparing for something. Beckett kept out of sight and moved slowly around the ship and found a spare sail lying on the deck. To warm up, Beckett climbed under the sail and began rubbing his hands together.
Suddenly, Beckett heard Latin. He tried to quiet his breathing so he could hear.
*How can they defeat us? They may have superior ability on land, but their boats are not able to challenge ours.* said one voice.
Beckett peered out from under the sail to get a look at who was speaking. It was an older man whose uniform was adorned with a heavy fur. The man also wore a golden band around his head. If this isn't the commander, he'll have to do, Beckett thought. There's no way I'm going back in the water.
*Yes. But what they lack in numbers, they make up for in strategy and innovation. Do not underestimate the Romans. Creativity is what enables them to win. They will be coming. And they will destroy your fleet if you remain. I suggest you try to reach a compromise with them”, responded the second man. This man wore a cloak. Beckett could not see him except for his sandals. The sandals were the exact same ones that the Roman Legionaries wore.
*The Veneti will not give up their independence to anyone. I will not leave.* The commander said. His Latin had a thick accent.
*Then it will be your funeral. I cannot stay here.* The cloaked man’s accent was also strange. Actually, it sounded like Beckett’s father when he spoke Latin. It was a very flat accent.
*Then leave, coward. You will watch us raze the Roman fleet. The Roman conquest ends here. Today.*
*I am no coward, but there is more important work. If you will not listen, I must go elsewhere to fight. I beg you. Let Vercingetorix unite the Gauls. When Caesar fights the tribes one at a time, he can win. He can not fight you all at once.*
*You seem convinced of this prince’s ability to unify the Gauls. I do not believe it will happen.*
*It will happen, but unless the other tribes unite, you will fail.*
The commander stood silent, listening.
Beckett watched as the commander mulled over his options. But Beckett remembered that he had a job to do. He had to get word to Caesar about the commander's ship.
Swimming all the way back to the Roman fleet would take too long, and Beckett was exhausted. Beckett wondered if there was some way to send a message to the Romans that this was the ship to attack first. Beckett looked up at the large sail that hung from the mast. If it were to burn, not only would the ship be unable to leave, but the smoke would send a clear signal to Caesar. Beckett had learned to make fire from kindling from his uncle in Alberta, and he'd gotten in a bit of trouble once for starting a fire on the school yard.
*You see,* said the cloaked man. *The Romans are preparing to attack!* He pointed towards the Roman fleet.
Beckett could just see the Roman ships. They were moving into a battle formation, but were not yet advancing. Caesar was waiting. Beckett felt strange about what he was doing. He was helping the powerful Romans conquer free people. It was going to happen whether or not Beckett did anything.
Beckett knew he could not change history, but it still felt wrong.
*I cannot be found here*, said the cloaked man. He ran over towards Beckett’s hiding place and looked over the side of the ship down to a small raft. Beckett looked at the man’s face. He had black hair, pale skin and a deep scar running from under his right eye to the corner of his mouth. Beckett could see under the man’s cloak now; the man was wearing Roman Legionary armour! He was a Roman. He was a traitor. The man grabbed a length of rope and threw it over the side of the ship. He then jumped over the side of the boat and climbed down to his raft.
Beckett sat under the sail, petrified. Then he remembered, the sooner he got the job done, the sooner he could go home. The only hope he had of getting his wristwatch back, and with it his ride home, was to get back to Antoni. The only way that would happen was if he got the job done. Or at least it was the easiest way to make it happen considering where he was at the moment. Swimming back to the boat without finishing the task seemed like it would reduce his chances.
Beckett peered out from under the sail. He looked around the deck of the Veneti ship. He saw a small, dry piece of wood, no bigger than his own hand just a meter away. He looked around to see that no-one was looking in his general direction. OK, go! He quickly got out from under the sail. Grabbed the wood, and returned to the sail.
Beckett then broke the small piece of wood into two pieces, and then one of the two pieces again. Beckett then examined the sail he hid under. It was thick, too thick to rip by hand. He looked at the bigger piece of wood and noticed the sharp end. He began to cut away at the sail till it eventually ripped. He then ripped the sail free until he had a good length of it. He placed the torn sail over the larger piece of wood, and began quickly rubbing on of the smaller pieces over it.
Beckett continued rubbing the shard of wood against the sail. Beckett felt a sting in his hand as the wood put splinters into his fingers. The thought of giving up briefly entered his head, but just as it did, there was a spark, and some smoke. Beckett kept rubbing, his arm burned with exertion, but finally, the spark became a flame, and the sail caught fire. Beckett stopped rubbing and blew on the small flame until it grew. He carefully drew back the sail he was hiding under and picked up the burning cloth with the stick. Beckett saw the main sail just a few meters away. He was going to have to move quickly.
3, 2, 1, go! Beckett moved. He ran to the mast where the largest sail was, and reached for the bottom of the cloth. Luckily, it was a warm day and the air was dry. He held his small torch to the sail until it caught fire. He dropped the torch and ran back to his hiding place.
Beckett lay motionless under the sail, trying to control his breathing, as he was terrified of his hiding place being discovered. But after a minute (though it felt like a lot longer), chaos erupted. Sailors who had been watching the Romans were yelling. One man ran to the sail and tried to put out the fire, but there was no hope. The sail was burning fast.
There was a commotion on the boat as the Veneti sailors ran back and forth and tried to put the fire out, Beckett squeezed his eyes tight whenever the footsteps came close to his hiding place. When he felt the coast was clear, he peeked his head out from under the sail and over the side of the Veneti ship and sure enough, the Roman ships were moving towards them. Beckett let out a sigh of relief, but he knew his problems weren't over yet.
Beckett hid under the sail again. He remembered the last time he made a fire in this manner by the basketball courts at the school yard, and how he ended up in detention for it. Now, Beckett's talent for mischief was helping the Romans win a historic navy battle.
Beckett looked out from under the sail. The Romans were getting closer, and other Veneti ships were slowly starting to move. The Veneti flag ship, with its burnt sail, was dead in the water.
On the deck of the nearest Roman ship Beckett could see Legionaries in combat armor, ready to fight. The Legionaries were also carrying the thick wooden poles Beckett had seen on the Roman boat. As they came closer, the Romans turned. They were going to pass the ship! The Roman ships’ oars were pulled in quickly, so they would not break against the Veneti hull. And just as the oars came in the Legionaries lifted up the large poles, which Beckett could now see had hooks on the end. The poles reached up and over the side of the Veneti ship. The hooks tore the half-burned sail from its riggings. The sail fell instantly. The boat passed and pursued the next vessel.
The sailors panicked. They quickly realized the Roman strategy but it was too late. They were dead in the water. With no sails, the wind-powered boats could not move!
A second boat approached. It slowed, and the oars were pulled in as it came closer and stopped. A large wooden ramp fell upon the side of the Veneti ship. Hooks on the end dug into the boat. The ships were now locked together. The Veneti flag ship was captured. It was over.
Within seconds, Roman Legionaries spilled over the ramp and onto the Veneti flagship. The Veneti were subdued and the commander was held by sword.
Beckett hid under the sail again. He peeked his head out to see what happened. Antoni stood forward and walked towards the commander. The Roman holding the commander forced him to his knees.
*Did you really think that you could defeat the Roman navy?* Antoni said.
The commander looked up at Antoni and said nothing.
*You are fools, believing that ferocity and devotion will defeat us. All of Gaul will be Roman soon. Your fearless leaders will kneel before us,*
This guy talks a lot, Beckett thought, still half hidden under the sail.
Suddenly, Beckett felt the wind stop blowing. The Romans and Veneti both sensed the drop in wind. The Romans looked pleased. The Veneti admiral looked devastated.
*Fortune does not favor the Veneti*, the Roman leader said. *With no wind to power your sails, our fleet will overtake yours by sundown. Caesar will be pleased.*
*Bring Caesar here*, said the Veneti commander. *I will settle this once and for all.*
*So brave, but so futile. You will not live to see Caesar,* Antoni said. *The last face you see will be mine.* As he said this he moved forward and plunged his sword into the Admiral’s stomach.
Beckett closed his eyes and covered his face with the sail.
*Round up any high-ranking persons on the ship. Shackle them and bring them to our ship. Then set this ship on fire”, Antony said as he turned and headed back towards his ship.
Beckett’s leg started to feel sore so he shifted his body to keep the blood flowing.
Antoni noticed this movement and walked over to the sail. With his bloodied sword, he lifted the sail, revealing Beckett.
*Ah! Our reconnaissance officer. I must say you've impressed me. Caesar will no doubt be happy to see you. Perhaps even reward your talent for mischief.*
Beckett looked up at Antoni, who was still wearing Beckett's return switch. He got up. *Reward?* He began. *Just give me what is mine.* He reached for Antoni's wrist.
Antoni pushed Beckett aside. Beckett fell back on his rear. He looked to his right and saw the Veneti commander's body. He froze.
*We shall see.* Beckett looked back at Antoni. *Caesar rewards excellence. You may appear small in stature, but you have served Caesar like a true soldier. Caesar will be pleased.* Antoni turned to the Legionaries. *Send him back in a scout ship, Centurion Crastinus. We have a few more ships to take care of. The wind seems to have died down. The Veneti will be easy to catch. Caesar’s luck has prevailed once again. Venus really does seem to favour Caesar. But you, boy, definitely have Neptune on your side.*
Crastinus stepped forward and motioned to Beckett to head onto the Roman ship.